Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has become a punchline for late-night television hosts and "Saturday Night Live," but she's managed to stay alive in President Donald Trump's political game of "Survivor."
A recent Washington Post report took a deep dive into the benefits of the Trump cabinet official that revealed why the fraught appointment manages to hold, despite so much controversy.
DeVos is, at her core, an advocate of privatized and religious education that conservatives champion to help build a Christian army. She has fought tirelessly to undermine public schools by taking much-needed funds and passing them to costly private institutions.
“There’s an audience I play to, and it’s just an audience of one,” she said to the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. “That’s a true north star.”
Trump's lackluster "Christianity" has caused public flubs that makes his support from the evangelical community look like partisan hypocrisy. DeVos lends credibility to Trump's faith claims. According to The Post, DeVos's "deeply religious" beliefs help carry Trump among his base. Those voters continue to support him to the tune of 67 percent, according to the recent Washington Post/ABC News poll.
“He has staffed his administration and surrounded himself with people who have deep roots and street cred in the faith community. Betsy would be at or near the top of that list,” said Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed.
DeVos's other benefit is about cold-hard-cash. The spouse of a billionaire has a long history of philanthropy and connections to old-money and deep-pockets among the elite Trump has few relationships with.
She's managed to succeed where other right-wing education policy-makers have failed, in large part because Trump has no idea about public education and little interest in learning more.
"And the president — despite his 'Apprentice' reputation for dispatching with poor-performing employees — is actually loath to fire subordinates," The Post wrote. "In many cases, he’s let them dangle for months before cutting the rope or makes their lives so miserable they quit."
DeVos' other major benefit in Trump's eyes is she's stayed out of the limelight. The Trump cabinet has been rocked by scandal after scandal, with old-hat political leaders and government newbies alike screwing up in very public ways. DeVos tows the Trump line and keeps her head down.
"Trump appreciates that she’s tough, handles criticism and is a loyal soldier willing to defend even unpopular policies," The Post cited officials saying of DeVos. "For instance, she spent three days last month defending the administration’s plan to eliminate nearly $18 million in federal funding for a Special Olympics program in schools. She had fought to maintain the spending and was overruled by the White House budget office but still argued for the cut before hostile lawmakers at two congressional hearings."
After watching DeVos take such a public hit, Trump swooped in to save her by agreeing to add the funding back to the budget.
In the end, whether Trump likes DeVos or not, he's between a rock and a hard place. If he gets frustrated by her inability to score legislation and fires her, he could lose critical support among evangelicals and big funders. If he keeps her around, he'll continue to be aligned with those working to undermine public education.